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Red Cross cuts foreign staff in Iraq after blast
( 2003-10-30 09:04) (Agencies)

The traditionally neutral Red Cross, reeling from a devastating car bomb attack on its Baghdad headquarters, said Wednesday it would pull some foreign staff out of Iraq but would continue to operate there.

The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, stressed it would keep up its work in Iraq, where it has some 30 foreign and 600 local staff.

The flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) flies at half staff at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 28, 2003.  [Reuters]

But it said it would review its operating methods to better protect employees after Monday's suicide bombing killed 12 people, including two Red Cross guards. The explosion at the Red Cross was one of four near simultaneous suicide attacks around the city that killed 35 people.

"We are reducing the number of international staffers and implementing additional measures to increase security for our remaining staff," ICRC operations director Pierre Krahenbuhl told a news conference.

"The ICRC is not withdrawing from Iraq," he added. Details of how many staff would leave and what new steps would be taken were still being worked on.

Monday's bloodbath left aid agencies agonizing over their future as violence continues unabated despite the U.S.-led occupation in post-war Iraq.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said Wednesday it had decided to pull out four of its seven expatriate staff.

"The other three will stay for the time being to sort out how to continue our programs in the best way," Marc Joolens, MSF's Iraq operations coordinator, told Reuters.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, Director of Operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) addresses the media during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday Oct. 29, 2003, about the decision of the Red Cross to stay in Iraq following Monday's suicide car bombings outside the organization's office in central Baghdad.  [AP]
Other aid agencies, including non-governmental organizations, some of which have already pulled out entirely, are expected to cut back further, dealing a fresh blow to the international humanitarian effort in Iraq.


Secretary of State Colin Powell phoned ICRC chief Jakob Kellenberg Tuesday to encourage the organization to remain.

Powell also spoke to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday after the bombings about humanitarian operations in Iraq, where U.N. premises have also come under attack.

A suicide bomber drove an explosives-packed ambulance at the ICRC's headquarters Monday in the first car bombing suffered by the organization in its 140-year history.

The ICRC bombing and similar attacks on three police stations marked the city's bloodiest day since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein from power in April.

"Monday's attack was a devastating blow," the ICRC's Krahenbuhl said. Any targeted attack on civilians was a "serious violation of international humanitarian law" and they "must stop immediately."

But the official said the agency remained committed to working in Iraq because of the humanitarian emergency and because it was a country under military occupation and therefore covered by the Geneva Conventions.

"The conventions give the ICRC a clear mandate ... a responsibility and a role to protect and assist the population," Krahenbuhl said. "It is of vital importance to try and fulfil this mandate, even under these extremely difficult conditions."

The ICRC has been in Iraq continuously through three wars since 1980. It visits prisoners, distributes medicines and maintains water supplies.

It had already cut its foreign staff, from a peak of around 100 shortly after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, in response to the killing of a Sri Lankan technician in July and the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August. The latter also prompted the United Nations to withdraw people.

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